If the Past Seems So Bright
Jeremy Udden named his group Plainville after his hometown in Massachusetts. His writing for the quintet incorporates pastoral rock and folk and puts more emphasis on ensemble sound; the compositions aren’t merely launching pads for soloists. Udden’s alto and tenor saxophones often sound like a substitute for a vocalist, never getting complex but saying a lot in a simple line. The approach made his excellent 2009 Plainville come across like a rural version of In a Silent Way.
For all 11 minutes of opener “Sad Eyes,” drummer R.J. Miller plays a metronomic beat on snare and kick drum. Rigid as it sounds, there is a certain admiration for someone who can maintain a steady tempo without wavering or varying the approach. It slowly comes to life and takes off when Pete Rende flies over the tempo on Fender Rhodes and Brandon Seabrook rips into a psychedelic guitar solo. (Miller is often confined to rudimentary beat-keeping, which serves the music but can actually distract the listener from what’s happening on the frontline after a while.) Seabrook often plays banjo, plunking rapidly while Rende doubles on pump organ or Wurlitzer.
Udden wrote this set while thinking about returning to his hometown, and even titled one track “Film” due to its cinematic implications. But the plodding tempos and wide open spaces between chords make many of the selections feel too pensive and underdeveloped. Of the two tracks with guests on vocals, “Pause at a Lake” closes the album with Plainville cleverly straddling indie-folk and jazz; the lyric-less warble of “Bethel” was an uncomfortable, bad idea.